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Former teammates Drada, Kauffmann looking to put Kentucky tennis on the map

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Kentucky tennis coaches Carlos Drada (women's) and Cedric Kauffmann (men's) are former teammates at UK and now look to each other to help evolve their programs as head coaches. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky tennis coaches Carlos Drada (women's, left) and Cedric Kauffmann (men's, right) are former teammates at UK and now look to each other to help build their programs as head coaches. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Cedric Kauffmann and members of his men's tennis coaching staff sat in the far corner on the blue bleachers of the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex watching as Carlos Drada stood in between courts two and three, coaching his team as it competed in its second of three matches on the day.

The Kentucky women's tennis team won all three of its matches that day and they had the full backing of the team from right across the hall.

At Kentucky, the men's and women's tennis team share facilities, which means interaction between the two squads is frequent. It also means that the head coaches of their respective programs must work hand in hand to sort out practice schedules and facility usage on a daily basis.

The bond between Kauffmann and Drada reaches far beyond that of two colleagues, however, and the similarities and connections are seemingly never ending.

Drada is in the midst of his eighth season at the helm of the women's tennis program at Kentucky. He's seen his teams make runs to the title match of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and he's had teams struggle too. For the last two seasons, due to unforeseen circumstances, Drada was forced to enter rebuilding mode and he's now seeing the pendulum swing back in his favor with his team off to a 9-3 start after a tough 4-3 win at LSU on Sunday.

After serving as an assistant to legendary head coach Dennis Emery since 2005, Kauffmann finally got his shot at becoming a head coach on July 25 of last year when he took over for Emery who stepped down after 30 seasons and assumed a new position in the Kentucky athletic department. The transition has been seamless as UK is off to a 14-2 start and currently owns a No. 6 national ranking.

The change not only affected the men's tennis program, but Drada was left to build a new working relationship with Kauffmann as both were now in head-coaching capacities.

"When we got the transition with Cedric, it was just a little bit weird not to have to deal with Coach Emery for the first few days; I was looking around for the guy and he was gone," said Drada. "But since 'Cedie' was there, it's just great to deal with what you know, especially when it's someone as strong as Cedric. It has been a very smooth transition."

The fact that Drada and Kauffmann had both been at Kentucky as coaches and already had a working relationship dating back to 2005 when both were just assistants helped bridge the gap rapidly. Drada and Kauffmann's longstanding work relationship serves just as the surface to a deeply rooted bond that has withstood the test of time and circumstance.

The "old (playing) days"

A giant thank you is in order to Emery. After all, without his help, UK would not have the two tennis coaches that it does today.

Emery is responsible for not only helping Drada and Kauffmann get their jobs, but he's also the one who recruited each of them to play for him at the University of Kentucky. He was not only recruiting future tennis coaches, but elite SEC talent that netted tremendous collegiate careers.

Kauffmann, a native of Montsoult, France, came to Kentucky in 1995 out of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. As a player, Kauffmann was a three-time singles All-American and three-time All-SEC performer. His career record of 121-61 is good for the sixth-best in program history.

Drada joined Kauffmann two seasons later at Kentucky. During his four-year career at UK, Drada went 91-56 in singles play and made a run to the NCAA singles title match 2000 during his All-American season.

The roots still reach even deeper.

Not only were they both former Wildcats, but Kauffmann wasn't alone in coming to UK via Bollettieri. In fact, Emery recruited Drada out of Bollettieri before Kauffmann. But Drada, a year Kauffmann's senior, opted to explore his options professionally instead of taking the collegiate route.

"I think he got recruited to come to Kentucky before I did and he decided to play a little pro," said Kauffmann. "Those years you could do that in the old days."

A season later, Kauffmann and fellow Bollettieri graduate Marcus Fluitt decided to take Emery up on the offer that Drada had passed up. The next season, Ariel Gaitan followed Kauffmann and Fluitt to the Bluegrass from the Sunshine State. Due to NCAA amateurism rules of the time, Drada was still permitted to come back and try college if he so chose. Drada then became the fourth player from Bollettieri to join Emery's program.

"It's always easier when you know somebody before coming in," said Kauffmann. "When Marcus and I, the two came first, we kind of had to transition because we didn't know anybody. But when Ariel came, Marcus and I were there. And when Carlos came, the other three guys were there, so I'm sure it was an easier transition for them."

When Kauffmann graduated after 1998, the two long-time teammates continued to stay in contact.

"I know that he's always pulled for me," said Drada of Kauffmann. "When I got into the finals of the NCAA Tournament for example, he was already playing professionally, and he made sure he contacted me and told me how happy he was for me. He was just very excited about me doing well."

Kauffmann has a very special story that he can tell his children and grandchildren for years. While playing professionally in the 2001 French Open, Kauffmann took tennis legend Pete Sampras to the wire in a first-round, five-set classic.

While Drada was still searching for his professional calling, he made sure that he wouldn't miss out on his former teammate's time in the limelight.

"I was super thrilled when he almost beat Pete Sampras," said Drada. "I was working at a bank and I was watching the match online."

Women learning from, not envious of men's success

Drada freely acknowledges that he pulls for the men's team, especially now that one of his dearest friends is at the helm. Even though Drada is in his seventh season and Kauffmann is just in his first, no jealousy stems from the fact that Kauffmann's team is further along in the process. If anything, Drada wants his women to be more like the men.

"They are doing so well that we just want to emulate them," said Drada of the men's team. "It's good because it's not a rivalry, but we just want to keep using each other's success to represent the University in the best possible manner. It's like a family atmosphere here."

Evidence of the aforementioned family atmosphere is clear as day while walking through the tennis complex on the south side of campus. Players from both teams can be seen chatting, joking and watching each other on a daily basis, provided both teams are in town.

And it's easy to see why. Drada describes Kauffmann's players with words like "hard-working" and "humble." With that type of attitude and selflessness as an example, why wouldn't Drada want his team to be just like Kauffmann's, even if the results aren't there just yet.

"There's no arrogance; there's confidence," said Drada. "When you see that kind of attitude where people are thinking more about their team than themselves, (Eric) Quigley and (Alex) Musialek were a great example of that last year, and then this year they are taking that role and becoming more mature because of that, I think it's more natural. Success is attractive and people want to gravitate toward success and successful people."

Even though Kauffmann's team is considered one of the best in the country at the moment, he's not complacent when it comes to coaching. That's why when he's out in the stands watching Drada coach his players, Kauffmann is not only there for support, but he's looking to pick up extra techniques that he can implement into his own program.

"If I see something or he sees something that we're doing pretty well, or they are doing something that we aren't doing, then I'm going to ask what drill is that or what is it for," said Kauffmann. "I guess what both of us are trying to do is evolve.

"We're both trying to get better and better either on the recruiting front or on the practice court. I think coaches get better with age a little bit, so if I see him doing something better than I am, then I'm probably going to ask him a question."

Kauffmann compares the tennis situation to basketball on the north side of campus - without comparing himself to men's basketball coach John Calipari - and believes that the success of the men's basketball program has helped the women become a national and conference presence. He sees no reason why the same can't happen at Kentucky, and he wants to help make sure that happens.

Not only are the coaches helping one another, but the players are spreading the word as well. Just as Kauffmann and Drada came to Kentucky via the same high school, men's freshman Kevin Lai trained with women's freshman and No. 1 singles player Nadia Ravita. That relationship likely played a factor, even if just a small one, in delivering the talented freshman to Drada's doorstep.

"If I have high-caliber recruits and he has high-caliber recruits, they are probably going to know each other," said Kauffmann. "Kevin Lai and Carlos's No. 1 know each other from high school. They trained in the same spot. When Kevin committed here, maybe it helped Nadia to see that Kevin is going there, 'Maybe I can go there?' "

Two teams, one goal

With one team in the top 10 nationally and coming off of an unbeaten run to an SEC championship, and the other working to get back into the NCAA field, it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see the women's team as a bit envious of the men's achievements.

That's not the case at UK. Far from it, in fact.

Maybe it starts with the leadership. Maybe it starts with the fact that Drada and Kauffmann are close friends as well as colleagues. Or maybe each has been effective in creating an environment through recruiting that promotes the symbiotic relationship between the two programs.

Whatever the case may be, the teams are working together to elevate Kentucky tennis as a whole.

"I think it's always good when two cultures are good," said Kauffmann. "I think it's good when the women's team and the guys' team are good. They see our practices; we watch their practices a little bit. We always overlap.

"They're friends and I'm friends with Carlos. We want them to do well and he wants me to do well."

So much so that Kauffmann and Drada are pursuing improvements that will help both programs together, not fighting one another for resources. Just recently, Drada and Kauffmann came together to make a purchase that would benefit both teams.

"I think what we're trying to do, Carlos and I, our program is a little bit special," said Kauffmann. "Let's find ways together to make this program more attractive to recruits.

"We just made a deal three or four weeks ago where we're adding live feeds of four courts. We shared costs from out of our budgets to share the costs on the videos feeds so people can watch our indoor matches live. We have to do things together. If I have an idea, I'm going to bounce it off him to see what he thinks."

That's all in order to make Kentucky not just a great men's program or a highly successful women's team. Though Kentucky is traditionally called a "basketball school" with football seemingly on the rise, Drada and Kauffmann have other ideas in mind.

"Is it good for a girl to come here and see the guys' team and think, 'Wow, both teams are in the top 15? This is a tennis school?' " said Kauffmann. "We want this to become a tennis school, and maybe it changes the minds of recruits."

The combination of their efforts to make each team elite programs nationally. It's hard for just one person to do it and believe in the program, but with the help and support of a friend and colleague, the process is a little bit more enjoyable.

"I know in the past when we were doing really well," said Drada, "The men's team was really excited about that, so the way that it helps is that we just have more people pushing for each other instead of dividing.

"We're all pushing in the same direction and representing the University the right way and being in line with what (Athletics Director Mitch) Barnhart wants us to do, which is to represent the University with class and to win."

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